Christmas tree branches could save your garden

There is nothing that irritates me more than the month of March. Well, national politics but that’s only this year. March springs eternal. 

I have been pacing around the garden with alarming regularity, perhaps even wearing traffic patterns in the lawn.  I continuously lift the spruce boughs that are protecting the perennials to peek at the plants. They are up and at ’em and, at the moment, doing just fine. This is why I recommend spruce boughs. They allow the plants to breathe, air circulates and some sunlight penetrates. So the plants look healthy, nothing is yellow or leggy. They are just as happy as can be. I need to take a cue from my plants. But no, I’m waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop.  Anything can happen, i.e. single digits, wind. Snow would be welcome. 

This brings me to how you mulch your perennials (including garlic). It would be nice if you had tended to this chore in the fall after the ground was either frozen or a good snow had fallen. With our tricky weather it may be difficult to make that decision. I really don’t think it takes all that much to offer protection. If you layer on tons of mulch such as cardboard/hay/straw/leaves you may be making a home for rodents or stifling the plants. 

Another theory is not to offer protection at all. If the plants don’t make it through one of our winters they were not destined to grace our landscape. I followed through on that one for about four years while Jade the Dog was young and determined to remove the spruce boughs and chew them to shreds.

 One season of that activity was enough. So I waited for her to mature a bit and, sure enough, she lost interest. I lost garden pinks (dianthus) and foxgloves. There was also a marked reduction in annuals that should have reseeded. With a little extra effort and thought these plants can be saved from the ravages of the freeze/thaw cycle. Cutting the branches from your Christmas tree may be all you need to save your garden. 

Having already mentioned garlic, let me stress that if you did not plant cloves in the fall, it is not too late. You can order bulbs from various seed companies or, in the past, locally. Or if that fails, get some from the grocery store. Spring planted garlic works just fine. You will need to start them about four weeks before you plant them on the garden. The bulbs may not be quite as large but they still achieve excellent size and quality. I go both ways. This year I fall planted and then crossed my fingers because of the rain, hoping they didn’t rot. At the moment they are all about an inch and a half high under the boughs. I think they will be fine. But spring planting takes the worry out it. 

More on alliums — there are two kinds of onions, leeks and shallots under the lights in the guest room. They are looking just fine so far. But there is a lot left of March. If you have yet to try these in your garden you are missing out. For you market gardeners, these plants are cash crops. Plant lots and customers will flock to your table at the Farmers Market. They are so easy to start from seed, transplant beautifully and take little care once they are in the ground. 

Same goes for fennel. You simply MUST plant fennel. It is beyond easy and harvested straight from your garden, the taste is incomparable to anything you can buy that has been transported hither and yon. 

There are several artichokes under the lights. Lots of tomatoes, lettuce and a few flower varieties that take too long. Lights are very handy. If you are using them, be sure to keep them on 24/7 and close so the plants don’t need to reach. 

The tuberous begonias are perky with their little pink buds smiling on the window sill. These are the only stored flowers that I have. I gave up on geraniums (pelargoniums) and fuchsias years ago. I don’t have the environment to store them successfully so take great pleasure in looking at other gardeners’ success. My neighbors have a fantastic show of both of these hanging along the side of their house and I just wander on over there to get my fill. They are magnificent. As usual, I have picked my battles and settled on the tuberous begonias. They are easy to store, easy to get going right about now, and easy to tend in the flower box. 

I won’t be starting any more plants until the glorious day that I throw the circuit breaker on the greenhouse. Let there be heat to go along with our rapidly lengthening daylight. Methinks that might be the first of April, maybe a bit sooner depending on the weather. The full moon in March is the 23rd depending on what calendar you refer to. A full moon accompanied by a clear sky spells cold. I’ll wait and see. 


Note: I have planted a row of radish in the unheated greenhouse — just to see what happens. So much for patience. 

Rosemary Fitzpatrick is a longtime Homer gardener. She has been writing Kachemak Gardener since 1990.